- What Is ASMR?
- What Does ASMR Feel Like?
- What Triggers ASMR?
- Kinds of ASMR
- Why Do People Get ASMR?
- Who Makes ASMR?
- Ways of Enjoying ASMR
- Positive Effects of ASMR
- Scientific Studies on ASMR
- Book Suggestions
- Relevant and Related Searches
What Is ASMR?
If you’ve been paying attention to internet video sites, you might have come across some odd-looking videos of people whispering softly, while moving a brush or crinkled up piece of plastic around a microphone. No, this is not the next generation of beat poets, or the latest reality TV livestream. This is ASMR. It stands for autonomous sensory meridian response.
You might already know the effects of ASMR from the pleasant tingling feeling you get at the back of your head when you hear soft voices, or certain soothing sounds, like fingernails tapping on a surface, or pages being turned in a book. In fact, many people discover the effects of ASMR without knowing the term for it, in their everyday lives when they encounter normal stimuli, like listening to soft music, people talking in calm voices, or watching or listening to someone perform a task requiring concentration.
Though the phenomenon of ASMR has likely always existed under different names - for example, the word “frissons” in french literature, or in descriptions from English literature in the 1900’s, this technical term was only recently coined by an internet forum user in 2010. These days, it is also colloquially known as “head orgasms’, or ‘brain tingles”.
What Does ASMR Feel Like?
The experience of ASMR is reported to feel like a tingling sensation that begins at the back of the head, and that travels over the scalp, down along the back, and even into the arms and legs. The sensations of ASMR are pleasant and relaxing, bringing a feeling of calm and well-being, and can sometimes induce drowsiness.
ASMR has been compared to using a scalp massager tool, and indeed, the use of this tool can trigger a tactile ASMR response as well.
Physical sensations of ASMR can range from gentle, almost imperceptible tingling, to electrical currents passing through the body. Individuals can experience the sensations as “bubbles in your head”, or like getting a scalp massage on the inside of the head. Accompanying these tingles can be a whole-body sense of relaxation, as well as psychological benefits, like respite from distracting or difficult thoughts, or a feeling of euphoria.
What Triggers ASMR?
ASMR can be triggered by physical stimuli which can be auditory, visual, or tactile, including the following:
Sounds that can trigger ASMR tend to be soft and non-threatening, and can be enhanced when experienced with a binaural recording, or sound recorded through two microphones and played separately in each ear to give the impression of movement, or being in a three-dimensional space. Auditory triggers can include:
- Listening to a gentle spoken or whispered voice
- Quiet, repetitive sounds like tapping, brushing, scratching, scraping, or crinkling
- Certain words or sounds, like “skittles”, “kittens”, “dusk”, “whiskers”
- Mouth sounds, like eating, kissing, or the sound of wetness in the mouth
ASMR can be triggered not only by sounds, but also by certain kinds of visual stimuli, like:
- Flowing hand movements
- Objects moved slowly across visual field, like fingers or a pencil
- Watching someone write something on paper
- Watching someone perform a repetitive task, or a task requiring concentration, like drawing, assembling a model, or cooking
ASMR triggered by auditory or visual stimuli can often feel like the tingles that some may get from direct tactile stimulation, or light touch. This can be from:
- Someone playing with your hair
- Stroking your arm
- Gently drawing fingernails across your skin
- Tracing words on your back
- Any kind of gentle massage
Some individuals combine auditory and visual stimuli together in role play videos to simulate a situation in which you might encounter these sounds and sights naturally. Role plays which create an ASMR-rich experience tend to be when someone feels like they are receiving caring personal attention from another person with expertise. The person performing the role play will usually gently narrate what is happening in the role play.
For example, popular role plays in ASMR can include:
- Getting a haircut
- Receiving a head massage
- Receiving an ear cleaning
- Being the patient in a medical examination, like a cranial nerve exam, or a standard doctor’s check up
- Being the student of an instructor
Kinds of ASMR
As many people have seen, ASMR can be triggered intentionally, or spontaneously from normal stimuli - what is sometimes called “accidental ASMR’. Bob Ross” painting videos are a classic example of unintentional ASMR, as is the sound of running water, rain falling, or sometimes even coffee shop background noise.
ASMR can also be triggered without external stimuli, but simply through visualization or imagination of a certain kind of situation.
Why Do People Get ASMR?
While there may not be any evolutionary advantage to experiencing ASMR, there are various origin theories. One such theory proposes that the ability to enjoy ASMR triggers like soft whispering, gentle touch, and receiving personal attention may facilitate interpersonal bonding in a group . Like our ape ancestors who groomed each other, perhaps humans also bond when we care for each other.
As with parent-child bonding or bonding between romantic partners, the release of certain hormones, like oxytocin can also be involved in the ASMR response. Endorphins which stimulate the release of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, may also be involved in the experience of pleasurable sensations during ASMR, as well as helping you to remember and focus on the things that trigger pleasurable sensations. Oxytocin and endorphins acting together are effective at decreasing levels the stress hormone, cortisol.
Who Makes ASMR?
Anyone can be a purveyor of ASMR treats with the ease of internet access, and the prevalence of smartphones. These ASMRtists can run YouTube channels, podcasts, Spotify playlists, or blogs with all sorts of featured videos and themes.
To be an ASMRtist takes just a few pieces of equipment, though of course the better your microphone, the better the effects will be. Though there are some widely enjoyed themes for videos amongst the ASMR community, like haircuts and clinical examinations, ASMRtists are also exploring their creativity with original situations, such as performing as a flight attendant, or as a character in mystery story.
While ASMR videos can vary widely in content, there are a few aspects which are shared. Slowness, gentleness, and interactivity with the audience are usually present in ASMR content.
Ways of Enjoying ASMR
ASMR can be simply pleasant and relaxing - an easy way to take a break during the day, or wind down in the evening with a cup of tea or glass of wine. As some ASMR videos are recorded with a 3D microphone, they are best enjoyed with headphones so the binaural sensation can be appreciated.
As many people like to put on an ASMR video to help them fall asleep, but find that normal earbuds may fall out as they doze off, there are headband earphones that can be used. These have speakers embedded into the fabric of the headband, which stays comfortably on your head as you move during sleep. In case you don’t want to be played ASMR videos all night as you sleep, you can simply remove the headband, or program your phone to turn the video off after a given amount of time.
Some people may not have made the connection that certain kinds of stimuli can trigger ASMR. It is possible to discover new and specific triggers for ASMR that you never knew you had. Many ASMR videos focus on presenting many different kinds of triggers to help the user find the ones that work for them. ASMR is like a new category of cuisine that you are discovering for the first time - it may take some time to find exactly what you like, but once you do, you’ll have discovered something that you can always return to for enjoyment.
Positive Effects of ASMR
As with any experience that facilitates relaxation, ASMR can be used to reduce stress levels, improve sleep, and even alleviate feelings of loneliness. Symptoms of depression and anxiety can also be alleviated with ASMR. There have even been reports of people in unresponsive conditions being relaxed by ASMR.
Scientific Studies on ASMR
At the moment, there aren’t any scientific studies on ASMR to support any medical claims. However, as ASMR is easily accessible to anyone with headphones and an internet connection, it is easy to try out to see if it helps you achieve improved relaxation and sleep.
Q: Why do people do this? Isn’t it a bit weird to listen to strangers making mouth sounds on video?
A: To the uninitiated, ASMR can definitely seem weirdly intimate. After all, you’re intently listening and watching a stranger on the internet staring at you (or the camera), pretending to give you a haircut. However, as with many things that you appreciate only once you try, ASMR can quickly become one of your go-tos when you need a quick come down in the middle of the day, or during a bout of insomnia. It’s free, easy to access, and doesn’t have any side-effects, aside from perhaps getting hooked on your favorite ASMRtist’s channel.
Q: Can anyone experience ASMR?
A: Almost everyone can identify with the blissed-out feeling of relaxation under the personal attention of a massage therapist, or trusted partner speaking to you in a calm and caring way. One of the advantages of ASMR videos is that you can feel nurtured without having to feel vulnerable, or to feel connected digitally, while being alone physically. In this way, ASMR can be experienced by most people, even without watching videos designed to elicit these effects. Anyone who takes the time to relax can enjoy ASMR.
Q: Is ASMR considered sexual?
A: No. While ASMR can be easily associated with the world of erotica, and indeed some ASMRtists do put an ASMRotica spin into their content. However, as the experience of ASMR can be entirely triggered by non-sexual stimuli, like tapping, and non-sexual whispering, many people enjoy ASMR without any influence of sexual suggestion.
Q: Is ASMR like synesthesia?
A: Yes, ASMR has been compared to auditory synesthesia, and indeed this is how some individuals discover their “ASMR abilities”. Synesthesia is when a stimulus in one sensory channel triggers a sensory channel that has not been stimulated. For example, sounds are heard through the auditory sensory channel, which also cause the individual to see color, or experience shivers.
Q: What is the opposite of ASMR?
A: Sometimes there may be sounds which instead of producing pleasure in the recipient, rather cause them to feel discomfort, irritation, or even outright anger. This “anti-ASMR” experience is sometimes called misophonia, which literally means “a hatred of sound”, and usually manifests as a negative emotional reaction to certain kinds of sounds, like eating, or breathing.
- ASMR (Idiot’s Guides) by Julie Young, Ilse Blansert
- The Occult Basis of ASMR: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and the Occult Tarl Warwick
- ASMR: The Sleep Revolution by Benjamin Nicholls
- ASMR: A Scientific, Social, and Cultural Phenomenon by Justin NY2Rome
- How to Meditate in Just 2 Minutes: Easy Meditation for Beginners and Experts Alike! (Relaxation, Mindfulness & ASMR) by Phil Pierce
Relevant and Related Searches
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The Guardian. “ASMR and ‘head orgasms’: what’s the science behind it?”. January 8, 2016. Accessed September 11, 2017. ↩ ↩2
Washington Post. “A whisper, then tingles, then 87 million YouTube views: Meet the star of ASMR” December 15, 2014. Accessed September 11, 2017. ↩
The Atlantic. “I Tried a Spa Treatment Designed to Produce the Tingly Feeling of “ASMR”” June 5, 2017. Accessed September 11, 2017. ↩
Co.Design. “ASMR, The Internet Subculture Of “Sounds That Feel Good,” Is Going Mainstream” August 11, 2017. Accessed September 11, 2017. ↩
PeerJ. “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): a flow-like mental state” March 26, 2015. Accessed September 11, 2017. ↩